Library Trustees Vote To Close 4 Branches

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Four Boston Public Library branches are set to be closed to address an approximately $3.5 million budget gap under to a plan approved Friday.

By a voting margin of 5-0 — with one abstention — the Board of Trustees decided to close the following branches: Faneuil in Brighton, Lower Mills in Dorchester, Orient Heights in East Boston and Washington Village in South Boston.

The library is also eliminating up to 90 jobs, including up to 69 jobs in administration at the central branch in Copley Square.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the Boston City Council still have to approve the plan. On Friday afternoon Menino issued a statement saying he supports closing the libraries because it is a challenging budget year that requires “tough choices.”

The city level-funded the libraries, but a 73 percent state cut created the budget shortfall.

While Menino supports the proposal, nine city councilors signed a letter opposing the library closures plan. They said they may try to block the move by not supporting the city's budget.

"The strength and the ferocity of the people who came to the meetings will attest it is not over," City Councilor John McGrath said.

Added Councilor Felix Arroyo, "I do not see this as fait accompli."

After the long and emotional meeting, the trustees said they voted for the cuts reluctantly because they are required to balance their budget.

Trustee Paul La Camera, who is also WBUR's General Manager, abstained from the vote. He expressed frustration with the lack of involvement on behalf of city and state officials.

"Every member of Boston City Council, every member of the Boston delegation should be sitting out here and we should be hearing from them," he said. "And I’m deeply and profoundly disappointed in their absence."

La Camera wanted to spare the Orient Heights branch in East Boston from closing for another year but his proposed amendment did not pass.

Trustee Evelyn Arana-Ortiz also conveyed the difficulty of the decision as she choked up talking about her vote.

"This is the most painful decision that I have ever, ever made," she said. "I can’t, if you look at the options, if you look at the number of people that get displaced by the reduced hours, it’s a lot larger than closing four branches. I’m sorry."

Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, D-Dorchester, was the only state legislator present Friday. She says she’s fighting for more state support but needs more time.

"It cannot happen this year and that is what we are asking you," she said. "We are asking you to be fair to the people that live here in the city. Because the process has not been open. It has not been inclusive."

The trustees held five community meetings about the closures in the past few weeks, and board Chairman Jeffrey Rudman publicly defended the process.

But the process went too fast for many people, including Clara Hughes, whose Lower Mills branch is set to be closed.

"It doesn’t seem very transparent," Hughes said. "It’s almost like it’s been pre-decided and by the time it’s gotten into the communities the input is really minimal, the decisions have been made already."

The four library branches won’t close until September. Supporters say that will give them time to raise money and awareness to fight Friday's decision.

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This program aired on April 9, 2010.


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